Carroll County will soon have another voice in Annapolis tasked with fighting for residents' concerns by assisting legislators in developing and reviewing bills with the potential to affect the county.
Phil Hager, the county's director of the Department of Land Use, Planning and Development, has been named as the Carroll government's legislative liaison, a job he will begin June 4.
"As far as an opportunity to move forward, I have a great deal of excitement," Hager said. "I've always had an interest in this area."
Hager has previous experience working with the legislature during his time as a Carroll County government employee, and spent some time on Capitol Hill when he was younger, he said.
"It's a good fit for me; it's certainly attractive at addressing my personal interests," Hager said.
As liaison, Hager will spend the majority of his time in Annapolis during the legislative session from January to April. While the General Assembly is adjourned, he will work with the county's eight delegates and three state senators to assist them in developing legislation designed to benefit Carroll, as well as closely reviewing other legislation to evaluate possible impacts on the county.
Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, said he recognized the need for such a liaison early in his term.
The legislative session is fast-paced, Frazier said, and legislators are bombarded with more than 2,500 bills during the 90-day period. Having someone like Hager, he said, will ensure the county can maximize its efforts in Annapolis.
"He knows what [the commissioners] want, and knows how to read the legislation and what it will mean for us," Frazier said. "Not everyone can look at [a bill] and see how it will affect Carroll. It's a special skill set. We need someone down there fighting for us."
In order to accommodate Hager's new responsibilities, the commissioner chose to restructure the department into two areas earlier this month. Hager will remain the director of the Bureau of Comprehensive Planning, and Tom Devilbiss, deputy director of the department, will become director of the bureaus of Resource Management, Ag Land Preservation, Development Review and Zoning Administration.
This change will also take effect June 4.
"He couldn't run all the departments and do this," Frazier said. "But it's necessary to have someone down there, and I think he's the man to do it."
Hager said he will miss working in the department on a day-to-day basis.
"I have mixed emotions," he said. "I'm certainly going to miss having that contact with these types of activities and our phenomenal staff we have here. Moving forward, I'll still be working closely with the Planning and Zoning Commission and the comprehensive planning bureau and the activities they are pursuing."
Frank Johnson, a former senior assistant county attorney and mayor of Mount Airy, was the last person to serve as liaison from 2004 until 2010, after which the Board of Commissioners chose not to fill the position. In the fiscal year 2012 budget session, the board voted to eliminate the position, according to the Times archives.
Del. Susan Krebs, R-District 5, who worked with Johnson, said a liaison provides an invaluable service to Carroll legislators and the county.
"This is a great group of commissioners and I'm looking forward to working with them with the assistance of a liaison," she said.
Krebs also said she has worked with Hager in the past and is looking forward to working with him again.
"Phil was very helpful when we worked on the 'rain tax' two years ago," Krebs said. "He was down there [in Annapolis] so he is knowledgeable of the process."
Del. Haven Shoemaker, R-District 5, who also served as county commissioner from 2010-2014, said Carroll was one of the few jurisdictions in the state that did not have a liaison acting on its behalf in the General Assembly.
"It gets hectic down there and a lot of times it would be good to know up-close and personal of any impact legislation would have on the folks back home and on county government," Shoemaker said.
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